Some are too busy just trying to carry out policy. Others think government’s too big; they’re not interested in improving it, just in cutting it. Some use government to help their friends and allies. And some in Congress will be darned if they’ll let a drive for efficiency close a military base or federal office complex in their district.
I’m reminded, though, of a famous quote by Alexander Hamilton: “A government ill-executed, whatever may be the theory, in practice is poor government.” Our government has become so big, complex and riddled with competing agendas that its performance — its ability to execute faithfully the law — is terribly compromised. As NYU professor Paul Light points out, there are too many decision-makers, too many bases to touch, too many layers of management, too many managers in each layer, and too little accountability.
These are crucial matters to fix. Not only do Americans want to see better performance from their government, but federal executives — including the president — cannot achieve their policy objectives unless those under them are competent and high-performing. We have to rethink and transform how government does its business — not just on a one-shot basis, but constantly.
Light has probably thought harder about these issues than anyone else inside or outside government, and there are a number of recommendations he and others make:
• We have to cut the number of political appointees. In the federal government alone, they number roughly 3,000, and often don’t win their positions by merit.
• We have to reduce the layers of management, and reduce the sheer number of people employed by government.
• Outsourcing has gotten out of hand. In theory, private-sector contractors save taxpayers money. In reality, Light’s research shows, they can cost us twice as much.